How Linda Bean built a lobster empire

PORT CLYDE — Linda Bean’s path to becoming one of the major players in the state’s lobster industry came late in life.

“I was 67 at the time and going through a divorce,” Bean said about her decision to try a new career in the lobster industry. “This gave me a new lease on life.”

Bean, who is the granddaughter of L.L.Bean’s founder, had a home in Port Clyde and about a quarter mile away was the Port Clyde General Store, the Dip Net restaurant, and down the road, the Bay Lobster wharf where lobstermen unloaded their catch.

She knew the owners of the Bay Lobster buying station and one of them, Nancy Albano, called her and asked if she would be interested in acquiring the lobster business.

Bean wasn’t immediately sold on the idea.

“I had never been in that type of business,” she said. “I had been a licensed real estate broker and invested in some vacation properties but that was the extent of it.”

David and Nancy Albano convinced her by agreeing to stay on for a year to show her how the business operates through an entire year’s cycle.

In February 2007, she purchased the Bay Lobster buying station for $1.6 million. In May 2007, she purchased Port Clyde’s general store and restaurant, both anchor businesses in this coastal village, for $1.1 million. Those were the first of what has become many acquisitions in the Midcoast for Bean.

She said the privilege of being one of the L.L.Bean heirs has given her the opportunity to make the investment in the Maine lobster industry.

“You need a lot of working capital to be in this business. If not for the success of L.L. Bean and its stocks, I couldn’t have had the success I have had,” she said.

In the first year she owned the Port Clyde wharf, it purchased 400,000 pounds of lobster from harvesters.

Today, she has five buying stations and expects those businesses will purchase 7 million pounds in 2013.

Bean also became aware of the Maine lobster industry’s dirty secret — 70 percent of Maine lobsters are shipped to Canada where processing facilities package, freeze and ship the lobster meat back to Maine and elsewhere in the world. The entrepreneur in Bean saw no reason why Maine lobsters had to be shipped to Canada to be processed.

She took action.

In December 2008, she got into the processing end of the industry by purchasing the 23,000-square-foot former Oak Island Seafood plant in Rockland’s Industrial Plant for $1 million.

“The added value of processing Maine products should stay in Maine,” Bean said.

David Cousens, president of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, said Bean’s involvement in the lobster industry has been positive.

“Any time you create more processing in this country, it’s positive,” Cousens said.

The head of the lobstermen association said Bean has made a large investment in the industry’s infrastructure, including improvements to the wharves she purchased and by providing bait coolers so that lobstermen can buy the bait they need.

Bean’s industry grew quickly after the initial purchase in the center of Port Clyde.

In April 2008, Bean purchased the Harborside Wharf on Vinalhaven for $700,000. In February 2009, she purchased a buying station for an undisclosed amount on Bar Island at the entrance to Vinalhaven. In March 2009, she purchased the 12,000-square-foot former North Atlantic Products plant in the Rockland Industrial Park, which she uses to store lobsters, and the Bert Witham wharf in Tenants Harbor for $850,000.

And in November 2010, she purchased the former Inland Seafood Company wharf for $1 million.

She hasn’t always been successful in her quest for acquisitions. She said she tried to buy the Atwood Lobster company on Spruce Head Island, which was a major dealer in the state, but couldn’t reach an agreement.

However, the Atwood family in 2011 sold its lobster company to a subsidiary of Highland Park, Ill.-based Mazzetta Company LLC, which bills itself as one of the world’s leading fully integrated direct importers of premium-frozen seafood.

While not buying the Atwood company, Bean was able to win the plum contract to provide lobsters to the Maine Lobster Festival, one of the largest summer festivals in Maine. The Atwood company had been the longtime supplier for the festival.

The festival is held for five days in the first week of August on Rockland’s waterfront — this year from July 31 through Aug. 4.

Tim Carroll, president of the festival, said Bean has been a good partner in the festival. This will be the third year she has the contract to provide the projected 20,000 pounds of lobster for hungry visitors to Rockland’s premier event.

Carroll pointed out that Bean also has become a major sponsor for the festival.

“I feel we have become great partners in the promotion of Maine lobster,” Carroll said.

In April 2013, Bean purchased the 11,000-square-foot former Courier Publications printing plant which was being converted into a lobster processing plant by a Canadian company. Bean said she will be using that building for additional storage of lobsters, grading the crustaceans and distribution.

Bean said half the lobsters she buys are sold live to customers such as restaurants. The remaining half are processed at the Rockland plant where they are then sold whole or in parts.

The Port Clyde businesswoman has also worked hard on marketing lobsters, pointing out that the better and more they are marketed the better for lobstermen who need to find buyers for the growing catch.

In 2007, Maine lobstermen landed 64 million pounds of lobsters and received $280 million for that catch. In 2012, Maine lobstermen landed 126 million pounds and earned $339 million.

The lobster products she sells goes under the trademark name Linda Bean’s Maine Lobster.

She also was one of the leading figures in getting Maine lobsters to be eligible for sustainability certification from the Marine Stewardship Council. She said her buying stations participate in that which tells consumers that they are buying sustainable Maine lobsters, sort of like the organic label on foods, she said.

In addition to the Dip Net in Port Clyde, she owns the 240-seat Topside Tavern in downtown Freeport across from the L.L. Bean flagship store, a 180-seat restaurant and lounge at the Portland International Jetport, and Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine Lobster Cafe in Delray Beach, Fla.

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Eric  LeBlanc's picture

“You need a lot of working

“You need a lot of working capital to be in this business. If not for the success of L.L. Bean and its stocks, I couldn’t have had the success I have had,” she said.

At least she realizes that being born rich was the key to her success.

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